David Miliband: aid is failing to keep pace with humanitarian crises

The global humanitarian system is under “unprecedented strain” – with reactions to crises such as the threat of famine coming too late, according to David Miliband, head of the humanitarian relief group the International Rescue Committee.

Citing fresh figures showing that the 2017 humanitarian appeal for the crisis facing Somalia had achieved just 0.4% of the $863.5m (£690m) requested last month, the former UK foreign secretary said that rather than intervening early, the world was in grave danger of repeating the mistakes of the past when famine hits.

After being linked to a high-profile job at the United Nations overseeing its international development work, Miliband said: “I have not applied for a job at the UN and I am fully focused on my work at the International Rescue.”

However, he sketched out his vision for the reform of aid and development work, calling for greater interaction between the two, more “muscular diplomacy”, the UN playing a key role and the organisation’s military peacekeepers being deployed faster and with complete funding.

With drought conditions leaving many Somalis facing severe food and water shortages, the international appeal by the UN and aid groups for funds to reach 3.9 million people with urgent life-saving humanitarian assistance was launched on 17 January. About 320,000 children under the age of five are acutely malnourished and in need of urgent help.

Miliband was speaking as other figures from the humanitarian community warned that famine is looming in four different countries, threatening unprecedented levels of hunger.

Asked about the slow response of donors – not just to Somalia but to the appeals for Yemen, Nigeria and South Sudan – he said: “Overseas aid has not kept pace with the growing challenge of fragile states and displacement. The UK actually has a very proud record, but too many other governments have not been able to increase their funding and they fund on a very fragmented and reactive basis.